The New Zealand women's football side achieved one of their best results in history after achieving a 1-1 draw with world champions Japan in Tosu last night (NZT).
They were helped by the fact Japan were reduced to 10 players on the stroke of halftime when captain Aya Miyama sent off for two bookable offences. Both were soft decisions but it allowed the Football Ferns to play with a little more freedom and they were finally rewarded when Annalie Longo came off the bench to rifle home an equaliser in the 83rd minute.
It was little more than they deserved in an impressive performance. Japan scored a brilliant goal in the 21st minute when Yuki Ogimi volleyed in a great ball from the right side and had another couple of decent chances but New Zealand looked composed throughout and caused the world's No 3-ranked side problems.
The result came on the back of their 1-1 draw with Australia on Sunday (Australia won the penalty shootout to claim the inaugural Centenary Cup), which means the 20th-ranked Kiwis have achieved draws against two top-10 nations in the last week.
They might reflect, however, on the fact they might have beaten both sides. They have never beaten a Japan or a top-10 side since Fifa first started publishing the rankings and last night represented a golden chance.
Coach Tony Readings is trying to turn the Football Ferns into a side who value possession and pass the ball around as they looked to the 2015 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. They have been doing that effectively and looked more dangerous against a full-strength Japan than they did against Australia.
Hannah Wilkinson volleyed against the crossbar after a piece of individual skill early in the second half, Ria Percival delivered a handful of teasing balls into the box and strikers Sarah Gregorius and Amber Hearn had half-chances before Longo latched onto a Percival cut-back late in the match.
The Football Ferns are due to play Switzerland in two matched in September before taking on the world's top-ranked side in the US in October.
Japan 1 (Yuki Ogimi 21) New Zealand 1 (Annalie Longo 83). HT: 1-0.